A petition filed by opponents of Atlanta’s planned public safety training center to put the matter on the November ballot has been approved, and organizers have begun collecting signatures.
The petition was approved Wednesday, two weeks after an initial petition was submitted by the Cop City Vote coalition to the municipal clerk’s office. The delay resulted in legal action against interim clerk Vanessa Waldon.
“We were told shortly before 1 p.m. (Wednesday) that the petition form was approved. We are grateful that the Municipal Clerk has fulfilled her legal obligation to recognize our repeated efforts to incorporate her requested changes in a timely manner,” Mariah Parker, a plaintiff in the recently filed lawsuit and the original petition filer, said in a statement. “We trust that she will return the official copy to us in a timelier fashion than she took with the approval process.”
Organizers arrived at city hall Thursday around 2 p.m. to pick up the forms that will allow them to begin collecting signatures from registered Atlanta voters. The group now has 60 days to collect more than 70,000 signatures.
Organizer Mary Hooks was the first person to sign the form.
“This movement has been going on for years. I just added my signature but folks have added their blood, sweat and tears,” Organizer Mary Hooks said outside the municipal clerk’s office. “I want to make sure I situate this moment on a broader movement to stop Cop City that has been winning for years.”
The group attempted to see if Mayor Andre Dickens would be interested to sign the petition but he was not available. Councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari was the second person to sign the petition.
“I’m signing because I support democracy. We’ve encouraged this movement, we keep telling them to invest in democratic methods and this is as democratic as it gets,” Bakhtiari, who was one of the few councilmembers who recently voted against funding the training facility, said.
The clerk’s office provided the group 3,000 copies of the form, which has space for five signatures which need to be collected in-person with a registered Atlanta residents as witness.
Originally, the group had 60 days to collect the signatures but due to delays in the approval process, they now expect to have only 57 days. Organizers will have to collect 70,330 signatures from registered Atlanta voters in the last municipal election. The group has said in the past that organizers plan to collect more than 75,000 signatures, in case some are not approved.
Once the signatures are collected, the petition will be filed with city council, so members can determine the validity of the petition within a 50-day period. If validated, the petition will appear on the November ballot.
As part of the legal action filed against Waldon, the group hopes that since the clerk delayed approval of the petition a couple of days, the days lost will be substracted from the 50 days city council has to review signatures rather than the 60 days to collect the signatures.
Construction work at the site is already underway, but organizers say they will file an injunction that could prevent the work from continuing after the signatures have been collected.
“We are going to file an injunction when we have gathered all of the signatures because we have to show that it is likely we will succeed in our referendum measure in order to be granted an injunction,” said Alex Joseph, a local attorney involved in the legal aspects of the referendum.
The group is using as a guide a recent referendum that took place in Camden County involving a proposed spaceport. The county supported the project, but it was voted down by residents. The Georgia Supreme Court in February unanimously upheld the Camden County referendum, in a ruling that could open the door for a wave of new citizen-backed efforts to overturn a sweep of decisions made by local elected officials.
Still, it remains uncertain whether the ruling also applies to municipalities. Joseph said organizers are expecting several legal challenges on the referendum.